With Star Wars: Rogue One in the news recently, I got a bug to take a look at some of the older films for old time’s sake. And having reviewed Episodes 1 and 2 here already, I figured why not close it out with Episode III. I remember when Episode III came out in the theater and instead of being excited I was just hoping for a fitting end to the story. Episode I didn’t trigger any real emotional response in me and Episode II had some good elements but was bogged down by painful dialogue and storytelling. So that left this one as the last hope for a good movie out of the prequel trilogy. So what did I think?
What Worked for me
- The action – There was plenty of it, and it was all good. This was easily the most action of all seven Star Wars films, and the best. They start out with a space battle that segues into a lightsaber duel. And then we get four more lightsaber duels, and multiple ground battle scenes. The climactic fight between Obi-Wan and Anakin is in my opinion the best duel of all seven films, and the Yoda-Palpatine one that’s going on at the same time ranks pretty high up there, too.
- Ian McDiarmad – The prequels were bogged down throughout by awful dialogue and some very wooded acting, even from the big names. Ian was the only cast member guilty of neither in his portrayal of Senator/Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine. His performance was really what held the movie together in between the action scenes. He was equal parts evil, cunning, and manipulative and was the most convincing actor on the screen here.
- The music – John Williams score has always been like an extra cast member for these movies and punctuate every scene. From the opening scene to the Order 66 montage to the epic duels to the final scenes, Williams’ music adds a whole letter grade to a movie and conveys the feelings you’re supposed to have during a scene as much and often more than the cast members or the special effects. Williams may very well be the second most important person to the Star Wars saga behind George Lucas himself.
- George Lucas imagination – Say what you will about his script work and directing, and I’ve said plenty, but you cannot say anything negative about his ability to dream up entire planets and alien species and successfully get them onscreen. From Coruscant where most of the political drama goes down to the Hell-resembling planet of Mustafar, along with strange creatures like the half alien, half droid General Grevious, Lucas manages to conjure up some things that just blow you away.
What didn’t work
- The dialogue – While not as cringe worthy as in Attack of the Clones, once again the lines and their delivery by most of the major cast members dragged down an otherwise really good movie. Other than McDiarmid and occasionally Ewen McGregor as Obi-Wan Kenobi everyone else talked like they were reading off of a piece of paper, with periodic attempts at emoting as if Lucas was just telling them to say it with feeling. Even the moment we were all waiting for, Anakin putting on the Vader mask for the first time, was done in by a sappy ‘Nooooo!!!!’ from the newly minted Dark Lord of the Sith.
This movie demonstrates the importance of good dialogue and how much a good director matters towards actors performances. Given the previous work of so many of the cast members (Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Jimmy Smits, McGregor, even Hayden Christensen) there was no excuse for the wooden acting we got here, on top of the cringe worthy lines. What saves this one and makes it a good but not great film instead of the mediocre offerings of Episodes 1 and 2 are everything else. Episode 1 was a waste of time fooling around with a elementary school age Anakin instead of getting the ball rolling on his doomed career as a Jedi while Episode 2 added on that awful Forbidden Love story between Anakin and Padme.
That left Episode 3 needing to: lay the seeds for the big heel turn by Anakin, show his physical conversion into Darth Vader, carry out the fall of the republic and Palpatine’s rise to Emperor, and the end of the Jedi order. And to be fair, they did manage to pull a lot of it off very well. But we never got a thorough depiction of Anakin’s growing doubts in the status quo and how those doubts made his turn feasible. There were several scenes of Anakin getting emo about not getting something he wanted but that alone isn’t enough to make one sign on to killing off their brethren and overthrowing their whole government to install a dictator.
Final Grade: 7 out of 10
The action was great, some of the best you’ll get from science fiction/fantasy, and plentiful. But when the action wasn’t happening, things weren’t so good outside the work McDiarmid put in as Palpatine. The movie is 100 percent watchable whenever it comes on but until the second half, when Anakin turns and Palaptine burns the whole Republic down, the movie fails to draw you fully in emotionally because of the dialogue. The original trilogy had a ton of cheesy dialogue but cheesy and endearing isn’t the same as cheesy and painful, and the original trilogy didn’t sit and dwell on it’s cheesy dialogue in an effort to force an emotional connection between us and the main characters. I watched Episode IV a few days ago and it’s remarkable how fast it moves even with a number of scenes that consist of people just sitting and talking. They got in, said what needed to be said, and moved on quickly. That didn’t happen here and the movie suffers for it. But all in all it’s easily the best film of the prequel trilogy and the only one that escaped the Mediocre Movie Review section here.